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Effects of Moldy Feed and

Mycotoxins on Cattle

Dr.Kedar Karki
Effects of Mold

• - Moldy feeds are less palatable and may reduce

dry matter intake. This in turn leads to a
reduction of nutrient intake, reducing weight
gains or milk production. Performance losses of
5 - 10% are typical with moldy feeds even in the
absence of mycotoxins. Mycotoxin
contamination increases production losses, even
when mold is not readily visible.
Effects of Mold

• - Moldy feed may have reduced digestibility and energy

content may need to be adjusted down by 5%. Molds
grow and propagate deriving energy from the feed's
protein, fat and carbohydrate. Dietary fat in particular is
reduced in mold infected feeds. Suggested that book
values for energy be multiplied by 0.95 in the presence
of substantial amounts of mold (ie 95% of energy value).
Some researchers suggest reducing energy by as much
as 10% (ie 90% of energy value).
Effects of Mold

• - Moldy feeds may cause health problems.

Feeding moldy feeds increased problems
with mycotic abortions and respiratory
disease. Feeding cattle moldy feeds is
also hazardous to human health - farmers
lung may result from breathing in mold
Moldy Feed and Mycotoxins
• Mold spore counts may underestimate the
amount of mold present and be a poor indicator
of the potential risk.
- Moldy or musty feed will not always contain
harmful mycotoxins. Moldy feeds may contain
mycotoxins but not at harmful levels.
- Molds may produce harmful levels of potent
mycotoxins under certain circumstances. Molds
may always produce some mycotoxins.
Effects of Mycotoxins

• Initially mycotoxins cause relatively minor problems. The

reduction in performance may be negligible. Within days
or weeks, the effects of continued mycotoxin
consumption on performance (milk production or weight
gains) becomes more pronounced.

- Off-feed, ketosis and displaced abomasum problems

may increase significantly with the consumptions of
mycotoxins. Some animals develop diarrhoea or have
signs of haemorrhaging.
Effects of Mycotoxins

• - Estrogenic effects, swollen vulvas and nipples;

vaginal or rectal prolapse may occur. Reduced
fertility / conception rates or abortions may also
be evidence of mycotoxin consumption.

- The effects of mycotoxins are amplified by

production stress. High producing dairy cows
and rapidly growing feedlot cattle are more
susceptible to the effects of mycotoxins than low
producing animals.
Problems with Mycotoxins

• - The severity of mycotoxins problems in cattle from field cases are

not readily replicated in controlled research trials:
* DON levels at 0.1 ppm have been linked with depressed
feed intake and lower milk production on dairy farms but research
on dairy cows 13 - 22 weeks into lactation with 0, 6 and 12 ppm
DON did not show significant differences in milk yield.
* Case studies from University of Wisconsin noted bovine
abortions associated with 1 ppm Zearalenone but similar
reproductive disorders could not be demonstrated in cattle fed 200 -
300 ppm Zearalenone contaminated feed.
Problems with Mycotoxins

• Research and field data on the effects of molds

and mycotoxins are highly variable and often
contradictory. Possible reasons for this are:

* Detected mycotoxins may simply act as

indicators of other harmful but unknown
mycotoxins and/or metabolites.

* Currently there is no way to tell at what

level these other compounds are present.
Problems with Mycotoxins

• * Many trials are conducted with essentially

"pure" mycotoxins and no other measurable
toxins. Performance and health were not
affected in feedlot cattle fed 10 to 15 ppm DON
in the diet provided little or no other mycotoxins
were present.

* The cumulative and/or synergistic effects

of mycotoxins and metabolites are unknown, but
suspected as a mode of action.
Problems with Mycotoxins

• * Duration of the tests; many conducted

for 1 to 10 days; several for only a month.

* Trials with single dose rate that did

not reflect expected levels in practice.

* Animals used were the least

sensitive, ie mid to late lactation cows
producing 20 kg milk.
Detoxification of mycotoxins

• Ruminants are uniquely equipped to protect themselves from the

harmful effects of mycotoxins. It is assumed that sufficient
degradation of the mycotoxins has taken place before absorption
into the blood and vital organs to protect the animals.
- Mycotoxins are detoxified or altered in the rumen. but:
* The rate of detoxification differs for the different types of
* The extent of detoxification of any particular mycotoxin
depends on the rate of passage of feed. Rumen turnover rates are
about 8 times longer in beef cows than lactating dairy cows.
Detoxification of mycotoxins

• * The extent of detoxification depends on the original

dose level. Five and 10 ppm DON were completely
transformed to the reportedly less toxic deepoxy DON or
DOM-1 within 24 hours when incubated in rumen fluid.
More than half of the DON remained from the 50 and
100 ppm DON treatments at 24 hours incubation.

* The altered metabolite(s) may be more toxic

than the original mycotoxin. Work in sheep had
Zearalenone transformed into the reportedly more toxic
Bottomline on molds and
mycotoxins in ruminant rations
• Effects of molds and mycotoxins on ruminants are highly
variable in practice. It is impossible to predict the effects
that molds or mycotoxins are likely to have in an
individual situation.

- Ruminants are less sensitive and/or affected by molds

and mycotoxins than swine.

- Ruminants are able to detoxify or transform mycotoxins

to other metabolites, mostly less harmful.
Bottomline on molds and
mycotoxins in ruminant rations
• - Ruminants are nevertheless susceptible to the
deleterious effects of molds and mycotoxins in feed.
- Young pre-ruminant and high producing cattle are the
most susceptible to the effects of mycotoxins.
- Decreased feed intake, production losses of 5 - 10%
and reduced reproductive performance are the most
typical symptoms of a mold and mycotoxin problem.
- If molds and/or mycotoxins are present it is prudent to
take steps to limit their potentially harmful effects on
Preventing Mycotoxicoses
• - The confirmed presence of mycotoxins are a concern for chronic
dairy cattle health and production problems, and in some cases
human health concerns as toxin residues (such as aflotoxin in
particular) may be present in milk.
- There are many different types of mycotoxins and they are very
- Laboratory test results should be interpreted in consultation with
your nutritionist because of the numerous types of mycotoxins, and
their potential toxic effects, which can depend on the concentration
of the toxins present.
Preventing Mycotoxicoses
• - Several types of products have been used to
help prevent the absorption of mycotoxins in the
gut to prevent symptoms of mycotoxicoses,
including both inorganic and organic-based

- Inorganic products include things like silicate

minerals (e.g. bentonite clay or aluminosilicates)
and activated charcoal but relatively large
quantities need to be consumed to be effective.
Preventing Mycotoxicoses
• - The inorganic products have shown some benefit, particularly for
aflatoxins, but the results are inconsistent (Diaz and Smith, 2005).
- Organic products include polymers of glucomannan, which is a
complex carbohydrate obtained from yeast cell wall. Glucomannan
polymers have a high adsorptive capacity for mycotoxins and can
normally be included at lower levels in the diet than the inorganic
products (Diaz and Smith, 2005).
- Recent research at the University of Guelph indicated that cows
given a polymeric glucomannan product from yeast while
consuming Fusarium contaminated grains had higher serum IgA
concentrations (indicator of immune status) than the cows eating the
same grains in the trial that did not receive this product (Smith et al.,
- No single product is effective against all known compounds (Huwig
et al., 2001)

• Diaz, D. E. and T. K. Smith. 2005. Mycotoxin sequestering agents:

practical tools for the neutralisation of mycotoxins pp. 323-339 in:
The Mycotoxin Blue Book. Ed. D. Diaz. Nottingham University
Press, Nottingham, United Kingdom.
Huwig, A., S. Freimund, O. Käppeli, and H. Dutler. 2001. Mycotoxin
detoxication of animal feed by different adsorbents. Tox. Lett. 122:
Smith, T.K., G. Diaz-Llano, S.N. Korosteleva, and M. Yegani. 2006.
The effect of feed-borne Fusarium mycotoxins on reproductive
efficiency in dairy cows, sows, and broiler breeders pp. 367-372. in:
Nutritional Biotechnology in the Feed and Food Industry. Eds. T.P.
Lyons, K.A. Jacques, and J. M. Hoover. Nottingham University
Press, Nottingham, United Kingdom.